The Annoying Power of Rubén Díaz

He added, “I could get sick. I’m allowed to get sick.”

Mr. Díaz is a deeply religious Pentecostal minister whose erratic, provocative brand of political showmanship has caused problems for his Democratic colleagues before.

Part of this is simply his tendency to say things that are a little crazy. In 2005, for example, Mr. Díaz was criticized for equating stem cell research to the Holocaust.

“Hitler used the ashes of the Jews to make bars of soap. In America, we are selling fetal tissue to be used in the manufacture of cosmetics,” Díaz said, according to a Daily News article. “Ladies and gentlemen, stem cell research is the reincarnation of Dr. [Josef] Mengele’s experiments.”

On a more basic level, though, Mr. Díaz simply relishes his role as a one-man internal-opposition movement. His criticisms of his fellow Democrats for what he says is their hypocrisy about party loyalty are part of a long tradition of loud dissent within the Senate conference, and he was among the earliest and most vociferous critics of former Governor Eliot Spitzer.

Although there is considerable exasperation among Senate Democrats at the bind Mr. Díaz has them in and at the way he enjoys flaunting it, they are almost universally loath to give vent to it publicly. Privately, staffers and elected officials call him unprincipled, gratuitously flamboyant and—from a Democrat who opposes his positions on same-sex marriage and abortion—“toxic.”

Bill Cunningham, a former aide to Governor Hugh Carey, compared Mr. Díaz to U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, an estranged Democrat whose apostasies—including campaigning for John McCain—have been forgiven time and again by his former partisan colleagues because they still need his vote.

As with the spot Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats are in regarding Mr. Lieberman, Mr. Cunningham said, Malcolm Smith and his members are in no position to reign in Mr. Díaz, at least for the time being.

“If the Democrats were to read him the riot act now, they would be doing the Republicans a favor,” he said. “There will be a number of districts where some Democratic voters agree with Díaz, and the idea that a conservative Democrat was not welcomed in the party will not play well there.”

apaybarah@observer.com